Where the road from Gangtok to Darjeeling takes its great bend high above the Teesta river, directly opposite Kanchenjunga, a Buddhist monk many years ago is believed to have proclaimed "Rungli Rungliot" This pious benediction which, literally translated, means "thus far and no further" is alive and well today in the shape of one of the most celebrated tea gardens in the Darjeeling hills. The village is steeped in legend.
As the story, goes, that peripatetic monk's search for the ultimate tea ended here. For he had evidently covered great distances over unpaved tracks, and traversed valley after valley. But what he found was not just that quintessential blend : The pure mountain air coming off the flanks of the world's third highest peak, Kanchenjunga, had cast its magical spell.
Switch to the present. The monk's stony track is now a black top road that takes the driver in four hours from Rungli Rungliot to the Rumtek Monastery near Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. From that vantage point, there are options not only for the trekker, but also the mountain bike buff and white water enthusiast.
The focus of the visit is a walk around the estate. The experience is a novel, one, not open to many. With permission for entry, the gardens at close range resemble a large joint family. For that special insider's feel, one must respond to the early clarion that signals the morning shift. As the first rays hit the snows of Kanchenjunda, the garden stirs of life. You may join groups of women as they gather their baskets to trickle down the pathways where they will pluck the world - famous leaves. Dotted against the slopes, their intricate web presents a pretty picture.
For the adventurous, some gardens will, at times, allow movement on horseback or even on mountain bikes. If one encounters the manager on his rounds, on may chat about the stages in tea processing - from drying, rolling and processing - from drying, rolling and pressing to fermentation, heat application and grading. Each of these are worth subsequent visits. While down below, the Teesta rushes on, inviting a white water run in stark contrast to the air of serenity that looms above the gardens.